Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam talks about how he was raised during an interview in the Governor's Mansion February 09, 2019 in Richmond, VA. He and Attorney General Mark R. Herring have admitted to using blackface in the past. And, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denies sexually assaulting two women. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
**FILE** Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Leaders in the District of Columbia recently talked about the shaky political events taking place in Virginia in a forum, “Controversy in the Commonwealth: A Conversation with Professor Michael Fauntroy,” at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law.

On March 6, Fauntroy, a political scientist at Howard University and a well-known author and television commentator, made remarks about the disarray taking place because of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) wore blackface earlier in their lives while Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) has been accused of raping Amanda Tyson and Meredith Watson, in the early 2000s. Fauntroy commented on the political chaos taking place in Virginia with former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt and John C. Brittain, the acting dean of the law school, serving as the moderator.

“Yearbooks of potential political candidates are being reviewed because of what is going on in Virginia,” Fauntroy said to an audience of about 55. “People will not run for office because of what may be in those yearbooks that could harm them.”

Northam’s medical school year in 1984 shows three pictures of him by himself and another with a White male in blackface and another person dressed in a white, Ku Klux Klan sheet. When the photos became public on Feb. 1, he admitted to being one of the people in the blackface photo but a few days later, reversed himself.

On Feb. 7, Herring admitted to wearing blackface at a party in his younger years. Meanwhile, Fairfax, an African American, has repeatedly denied raping Tyson and Watson, both Black, and said his situation was akin to a modern-day lynching.

Northam, Fairfax and Herring, the top three officeholders in Virginia, have resisted calls for their resignations.

Fauntroy, a registered independent, said the confusion in Virginia politics has him conflicted.

“I have zero tolerance for racism, sexism and xenophobia,” said Fauntroy, who attended Hampton University and taught a number of years at George Mason University. “However, we shouldn’t remove space for people to grow and evolve.”

Fauntroy, who said he thinks Northam should resign, explained the complicated and untested situations if Northam, Fairfax and Herring stepped down from their posts at individual times or all at once. Essentially, Fauntroy said, if the Democratic leaders stepped down, Republican leaders in the Virginia General Assembly could find their way to the commonwealth’s top political positions.

“That’s why nobody can go,” Fauntroy said, articulating the thoughts of many Democrats.

On Fairfax, Fauntroy said the lieutenant governor “has the space to be defiant.” He also noted that Fairfax hasn’t reached the age of 40 and this controversy could affect his future employment prospects in the legal field.

“If he is impeached, he could get disbarred and his legal employment will be shaky,” Fauntroy said.

Fairfax is the second Black lieutenant governor in the history of Virginia, after L. Douglass Wilder served from 1985-1989. Wilder became Virginia’s first Black governor in 1989 and Fairfax has made it clear that he also wants a term in the governor’s mansion someday.

Pratt, who served as mayor of D.C. from 1991-1995, denounced Northam and Herring for their blackface admissions, saying “originally blackface was intended to insult Black people.” However, she said Virginians would have to choose how to deal with the controversies.

“Ultimately, the voters of Virginia will have to settle this,” Pratt said. “The sentiment among the majority of African Americans in Virginia is to deal with this no matter how unpleasant and keep the Democrat in office.”

Regarding the rape accusations leveled at Fairfax, Pratt said the lieutenant governor should welcome a public hearing to allow both sides of the story to come to light.

Before Democrat Barack Obama won the commonwealth’s presidential electoral votes in 2008, President Lyndon B. Johnson won the state for the party in 1964. Obama won Virginia in 2012 in his re-election bid and Hillary Clinton carried it in 2016.

Virginia Democrats have publicly voiced concerns that the strife could deliver the commonwealth to President Trump in 2020.

In response to a question regarding that line of thought, Fauntroy quickly stated that he questions whether Trump will run for re-election. After that, Fauntroy said the polling doesn’t show Trump benefiting from the political controversy.

He said the contention may be an afterthought when the 2020 presidential race gets underway “and no additional controversies have come up.”  Pratt said with the growing influence of Black voters in Virginia, the Democratic presidential nominee will have an inside track to African American voters because “the Republicans have nothing to run on.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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